As I finished steaming these buns earlier today, my husband walked into the kitchen hungry:
“Here! Try one of these,” I said.
“You made Baozi?” he asked.
“No, these are Nikuman,” I explained.
As he bit into one, he remarked, “No. These are Chinese. These are Pork Baozi.”
“No they aren’t. They are Nikuman. It’s a Japanese bun. This isn’t a Chinese recipe!” I explained.
“Same thing,” he mumbled, his mouth full.
So there you go. Apparently what I call “Nikuman”, he calls “Pork Baozi”… and they are (apparently) the same thing! Whether you call it the first or the latter, they are always better fresh. You can buy them frozen at the Asian market… but it just isn’t the same. Why not make them yourself at home?
A few months back, I perfected my “bao” dough recipe using common American style flours that you can find at the regular supermarket. But if you have access to an Asian grocery store and can find “Hong Kong flour” – use that instead. Hong Kong flour is bleached and has a slightly lower protein content than your average all purpose flour and yields slightly better results. If you can’t find it, don’t worry! My recipe for the bao dough (using a combination of cake flour and all purpose flour) is a pretty good substitution, and you won’t be able to tell much of a difference. Use bleached (not unbleached) all purpose flour for the best color and texture. (Bleached flour will yield whiter buns, and has slightly lower protein content than unbleached.)
When I make these, I always end up with too much filling. But I prefer that, because I then freeze the raw leftover filling (tightly wrapped in plastic wrap), and will defrost it to use another day. My Zojirushi Bread Machine can only make enough dough for 10 buns – otherwise it will overflow… which is why my dough recipe is only for 10 buns. On the other hand, my filling recipe will make enough filling for 20 buns (It’s just easier that way – I can use a full 1lb. package of ground pork, and a full 8 oz. package of mushrooms). If you are making the dough by hand, you can double the recipe and make all 20 buns the same day. Or, you can make one batch of dough, then make a second batch of dough immediately after using the bread machine. Or do what I do and just save the other half of the filling in the freezer for next time (defrost in the refrigerator the day before you want to make Nikuman again).
Nikuman Dough (for 10 buns):
- 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (bleached if possible)
- 2 1/4 c. cake flour
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 1 T. active dry yeast
- 3/4 tsp. baking powder
- 3 T. sugar
- 2 T. canola oil
- 1 c. water
Nikuman Filling (for 20 buns):
- ~1 lb. ground pork
- 8 oz. mushrooms
- 2 tsp. canola oil
- 3 green onion stalks, chopped
- 3 large napa cabbage leaves
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 T.)
- 1.5″ piece ginger, grated (about 1 T.)
- 2 T. sugar
- 4 T. soy sauce
- 3 T. sesame oil
- 2 T. cornstarch or potato starch
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. Ajinomoto (optional)
1. First make the dough. I use my Zojirushi Bread machine to make things easy – Put the water, oil, sugar, and salt in the bottom of the pan. Top with the flour & baking powder. Make a little depression in the flour, and place the yeast in the depression. Set the bread machine to “basic dough”, and allow it to knead & rise until the dough is ready for use.
(Note: This dough recipe will make 10 buns, while the filling recipe will make 20 buns. My bread machine will not make a double batch of dough – it will overflow – so I either do it in two stages, or I save the other half of the filling for another day.)
You can double the dough recipe if you want enough dough for 20 buns and don’t mind making it by hand – mix & knead, then allow to rise 1 – 1/2 hours in a warm place.
2. While the dough is being prepared, clean and slice the mushrooms into small thin pieces.
3. Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan, and saute the mushrooms until soft.
4. Use a paper towel to soak up the liquid that comes out of the mushrooms and discard. (Or just drain.) Let the mushrooms cool.
5. Meanwhile, using a Japanese ginger grater, grate a peeled piece of ginger until you have about 1 T.
6. Mince the garlic fine, and chop the green onions. (See the small plastic package on the top right of the photo below? They now sell vacuum packed peeled garlic cloves in the produce department. They also sell tubes (like toothpaste tubes) of garlic paste and ginger paste in the same section – just in case you don’t have time (or energy) to peel and grate whole ginger or garlic yourself!)
7. Discard the thick white stem of the cabbage, and finely shred the leaves – you will need about 2 c. of shredded cabbage.
8. Mix the ground pork, ginger, garlic, green onions, and cabbage in a bowl.
9. Add the mushrooms and the rest of the seasonings, mix thoroughly. (At this point, you will want to taste the filling to make sure you have enough flavor – but it’s not safe to taste it raw! To check, take about 1/2 tsp. filling and microwave in a small custard cup for 30 seconds until completely cooked. Then taste. Adjust seasonings if needed.)
10. Cover and refrigerate the filling until needed. When your dough is ready, set a large steamer filled with water on the stovetop to boil. (If you are planning to make only 10 buns, you can refrigerate or freeze the remaining filling for another day. If you plan to make all 20 buns, start another batch of Nikuman dough in the bread machine. The reason why I usually don’t make a full batch of 20 buns is because: 1)My bread machine will not make a double batch of dough… it will overflow! 2)We can’t eat that many Nikuman before they go bad, so I save half the filling for another day – and then all I have to do is defrost it, and make only the dough.)
11. Set the dough onto a floured counter top. Cut the dough in half. Set one half aside.
12. Cut the piece of dough into 5 even pieces.
13. With your hands, flatten each dough piece into five 5″ circles.
14. Divide your filling in half, put the other half back into the refrigerator (or freeze). Portion the filling that you have left out into 10 balls.
15. Set one ball of raw filling on top of one dough circle. Moisten the edge of the dough circle with a little bit of water (to make the dough stick).
16. Pinch up the corners of dough so that you have a cross on top. (Picture a clock dial: pinch the 12:00 edge into the 6:00 edge, then pinch the 9:00 edge into the 3:00 edge.)
17. Now pinch up the diagonal corners into the already formed cross, twisting the middle slightly.
18. Flatten some paper cupcake liners and spritz with a puff of non stick spray. Place one uncooked Nikuman onto each cupcake liner. (I find these are easier to use than cut squares of waxed paper – but you can use waxed paper if you don’t have cupcake liners.)
19. Place 5 buns into the steamer, and cover. Steam for 15 minutes. (While this batch is steaming, use the other half of the dough to make 5 more buns.)
20. Remove the lid quickly so that the water does not drip onto the top of the Nikuman.
21. Serve hot. Refrigerate the leftovers. To reheat, wrap in a damp paper towel and microwave 30-60 seconds.